Conversations

I have been having hard time writing. The scale of massacre, the increasingly accelerating brutality of the regime, and the confusion and missteps on the side of “organized” opposition has made it very hard to follow without being angry and confused, . 

The outpouring of sentiments after the tragic death of Anthony Shadid tells as much about our own need for balanced and intelligent reporting on Syria as it tells about the extraordinary character of the man whose loss we bemoan.  

In the meantime, many good articles have come out recently. Jadaliyya continues to emerge as a powerhouse of thoughtful in-depth commentaries and articles on Syria. The international community continues to work very hard into convincing itself that it should not interfere in Syria. And Syrians continue to be murdered by a brutal regime. Questions about the future of Syria and the region in case the brutal regime succeeded in silencing the revolution are starting to circulate, as the regime increasingly deploys its sectarian strategy in search for survival even if it has to rule over heaps of dead Syrian children, women, and men.   

The regime’s constitution “tailored” for Bashar al-Assad is another part of the play. The retention of articles pertinent to the religion of the state and president are not meant to assuage the protesters, who are hell-bent of removing the mafia gang and its boy-king don. However, one can hardly pas it without observing the short-lived righteous indignation among regime supporters as reflected in some of the emails received by Joshua Landis [here], especially those that went on incredible mental and moral acrobatic hoops in support of the “reform accomplishments” of Bashar Al-Assad

Another friends responds:[From Syria Comment]

I am surprised you are not acknowledging and celebrating these two accomplishments, and are instead nitpicking on the mechanism of how a president is nominated…. Every country has specific rules. Look at the electoral college in the US…..”

The constitution fiasco is both a distraction and a new link in the chain of cynical insults to Syrians the Assad mafia has been subjecting the country to over 40 years. I have said a while back that Bashar will be sure to empty any new constitution of real reform and to ensure that it is customized for him. For months, many regime friendly comentators went into discussing how “a strong” prime minister will emerge as a balance to the “presidency”. Even now, a cynical comment on SC boasts of the emergence of 6 political parties in Syria while ignoring that the fraud constitution makes these parties ineffective, useless, and mere dressing for continuing totalitarian state with unquestionable authority to the presidents, who presumably will be a long line of Assads.  On facebook, and in other platforms, the seculars in the opposition, with few exception, went busy, also for a short time, arguing the contentious point of selecting the president-nominee while ignoring the most important parts of any constitution, “separation of powers”, which is completely absent. The president is the source of all powers. He can not be held accountable in front of the Parliament. The executive branch is a single person, who at the same time is the highest judicial authority. The parliament is a mere figurehead albeit with little or no chance of any real challenge to the Baath/Assad domination (Note/Q: anyone knows if the Baath party or any of its dog-tails in the national progressive front have submitted applications for recognition yet?).  I am curious about some of those who preached Bashar Al-Assad the reformist and  promised a strong prime minister years ago, which, given their absent if not obfuscating position,   seems to indicate that their stance then, is as it is now aimed at the retention of the tyrant Assad at all costs. Their failure to voice any meaningful response to the regime’s middle finger strategy only shows them as nothing more than cult members in the Assad cult.

Then comes another odd question, summarized again on Syria Comment [here] about the leadership of next Syria and whether such will emerge from FSA or SNC.  The reason I find this question as being odd is that it came at the heels of the post by Idaf [here], who argued that the revolution is neither SNC nor FSA and that it is organic and growing. Idaf’s points make such question of leadership mute at best, and renders SNC and other visible group as mere transient external connections and not the real thing. Idaf’s post is receiving wide attention, especially among activists in exile but who are well connected to secular activists on the ground in the inside. It has been translated to Arabic, and made it through several FB pages. They found in it a validation of their role in the revolution and of their justifiable concerns about what seems to be a strong arm tactics by some battalions of the FSA and a justification of their earlier fears, abandoned only for a short time, of the militarization of the revolution.

This is a critical issue. In the aftermath of the regime’s brutal massacres in Homs, Hama, Idlib and its apparent success in punishing hot-spots of civil protest, especially those where FSA had established presence, many now question whether FSA is really successful in protecting civilians. A legitimate question that is being amplified by the emergence of “power struggle” for claiming leadership of the military wing of the revolution, and by the publicity of the yet to be proven claims that “Al Qaida in Iraq” has already infiltrated some of the FSA battalions and initiated some actions on the ground in Syria. The increasingly sectarian face of the regime’s action in Homs is also a source of fear among activists. However,  an activist, with strong connections to the ground told me when we were discussing how the FSA has not been able to prevent the onslaught:

Everyday there are operations that are inflicting heavy losses on the regime’s paramilitary. These operations are not publicized by the regime for obvious reason and not publicized by the FSA so that people like you (he meant me OTW in real personality) don’t go shouting that FSA is conducting “offensive” operations, which has been declared a taboo by activists who want to guard the non-violent element of the revolution. 

The chains of bifurcations when discussing the Syrian revolution make focusing very hard, especially when with respect to sectarian incidents. An activist hailing from a minority sect sat me down for a long conversation about this issue. The activist told me

 “Look at all the video clips that supposedly are being sold by members of the Shabeeha and regime’s forces in which obvious severe abuses were committed by men with very clear coastal mountain accent. Only a naïve person would think that such tapes can be sold without the person being easily identified and punished as happened to the brave engineer who exposed the post-speech rally for what it was. It is a regime’s strategy to show and emphasize that the abusers are all from one sect.  And the regime is solely responsible for the initial leaking of these clips. It aims to accelerate and intensify instinctive sectarian responses from the widest possible segment of the opposition, preferably at the street level and on social media and in a response to the response, heighten the fear among the minorities and intensify their belief that, having seen the obscene sectarian hatred against them, they will be massacred en-mass upon the fall of the regime. The regime will argue that that the abuse intentionally publicized incidents are only isolated incidents and that there is a sectarian undertone to everything the revolution does. An added bonus is the manipulation of the “guilt-by association” fears that the regime wants to encourage among conscientious members of the  minorities relying on the fact that while they represent the wide majority of these groups, fear of mass retribution will trump disgust at these actions especially when some in the opposition start shouting “silence equals complicity” and call on various groups to declare their distance from the regime loudly even at risk of severe punishment from the regime .

The activist also told me of yet one more tactic used by the regime to increase sectarian tension and accelerate sectarian war. This tactic has been used on many activists, especially those with religious leaning, and it goes as follows. During interrogation, the worst torture, including verbal torture is intentionally applied by soldiers who belong to minorities. Local dialect is heavily overemphasized. But at some point through the detention, the activist is made to have a calm session with a “sunni” high ranking officer, who would then complain to the activists that “as sunni his own hands are tied” and that alawite are in full control of the situation and there is nothing that can be done now about them short of an all out sectarian civil war, which he (the officer) tries to prevent, but thinks is coming because of these “sect scums” who are even tying the hands of the “good” president, who is  more “sunni” than anything else.

I find it nearly impossible for an intelligence officer to say such things if not given a green light based on a planned manipulative strategy to do so. Another activist who has worked on the ground until a couple of months ago confirmed elements of both Idaf and hazrid posts and affirmed the role of women activists in the revolution, particularly in providing relief and support to the families of the victims of the regime be them martyrs or hostages-detainees. The activist, also hailing from a minority group, told me that in many a neighborhood, especially those with conservative leaning populations,  only women can provide effective support and comfort to widows and their families.  Grass-root support networks are flourishing in some areas, through which activists from all ideological shades work hand in hand to deliver relief and comfort. However, and as hazrid mentioned, the MBs, who have little or no real connection to these largely sufi areas, have been using these mostly secular networks  to gain entrance, then, and through manipulative language attempt to gain party loyalty to enhance their ground presence in anticipation of post-revolution politics. In other word, they are opportunistically gaining footing. This is also consistent with what I heard from members of the SNC who complained about the insistence of the MBs to maintain control of the SNC led relief operations and their tactics of distributing the relief in their own name whilst it should be distributed in the name of the diverse opposition.

On the Eve of the UN vote, I met an old friend of my parents who is visiting is son, now a dear friend of mine. He knew me when I was a child, but was later transferred with his family to another town before being forced into an early retirement after having been deemed not loyal enough to Hafez and his Brother.  I came in to greet him, he held my hand with a strong confident handshake and with his left, he patted the seat next to him signaling for me to sit down.  I did, and we started talking.

The UN vote had just been announced and like most of us in this “revolutionary hang out”, he was elated with the results.  But I sensed that his response was a bit more complex than the moral validation most of us felt then. And it was. His first assessment was that Russia and China have literally “screwed up” their prestige. “Two super powers, who usually enjoy the support of almost every single developing country in the UN could only muster the votes of only 12 countries, most of which are either satellite states, despotic regimes, or heading backward in that direction”. He reiterated: from day one of the Security  Council fiasco, it was known that the Chinese are taking a stand half principled and half motivated by their interest not in the Syrian regime, but mostly in Iran.  The Russians , on the other hand were dealing and wheeling. It was like they were in the bazaar, where Syria was only their “causes belli” for dumping off many other bargain items and extracting every single possible concession from many countries whose interest in the primary matter was not that high to bargain on such strategic issues only to get a decision that they themselves were not ready to take.  China would have abstained had it not been for Russia’s veto. But now, they UN GA vote has dealt their prestige a great blow, morally and politically.  We agreed that the veto was anything but a victory for Russian Diplomacy, to the contrary, it was an abysmal failure and a signal that the Soviet empire is finally over.

We then talked about middle class and about how both  Assads decimated the middle class and how Bashar’s economic reforms were designed only to enrich the Mafia gang leaving the middle class with no prospect for survival and the poor with no prospect for making it upward through education, which according to him, was what took him and his wife as well as my parents from being on the edge of rural poverty to the ranks of reasonably secure middle class” back in the fifties of the past century.  He pointed that even Lenin, cognizant of economic and intellectual weight of the middle class, had insisted before Russian revolution turned totalitarian on including the small bourgeois in the revolution’s ranks as opposed to his adversaries who wanted to cleanse the nascent state of what they thought as being a class with no loyalty.

He said, referring to the Assads: they were mafia, they are mafia, and they will remain so. They can not and will not reform themselves, let alone the layers of corruption through which they bought or forced loyalty. It has been 40 years since a real officer has made it above Brigadier General, or a single real thinker or leader made it into the upper echelon of the bureaucracy machine. Ignorance and mediocrity are their main friends, whether it is on their side or on the side of their opponents, and the knowledge and competence are their enemies.

His conclusion was interesting: all we need is to achieve a 51% ratio of enlightened citizenry. It doesn’t matter whether they are religious or not, it only matters that they are logical and secular. In Iran, we know that they are not there yet, as indicated by the inability to sustain the green revolution , In Syria, we have no real clue yet whether we have that since the regime has been successful first in forcing the armed option and seems to be heading towards success in forcing a sectarian civil war.  I don’t think we have 51% yet, but we’ll never know until the regime falls, which is only a matter of time and blood.

 A friend, who just arrived from Aleppo describes a ghost town. Business is almost non existent. Shabeeha have full control of fuel supplies once they arrive at the pump. While parked in the 2 hours long line, it is common for a shabbeeh to knock on the window asking if you want gasoline, which then is sold at incredibly high price. Price of food has more than doubled and even upper middle class families who now survive on their saving have to think whether to have fried eggs for lunch. The city, along with Damascus are increasingly restless, despite of the regime’s attempt to “reward” Aleppo for the apparent loyalty with the rewards ending squarely in the pockets of the greedy shabeeha.

ADDENDUM

After i finished the post, and went on to view twitter, i was in for a surprise, a blog called The Sweet Maker’s Wife, written by Evelyn Aissa a young Syrian Woman who holds a Masters in International Law. The current post on the blog is titled Deconstructing the Narrative on The Syrian Revolution (Jan 26, 2012). It is a more than worth reading for the excellent brief description of the various components of the opposition, if not for the plenty of other well presented information.

Posted on February 18, 2012, in Bashar Al-Assad, Corruption, Crimes Against Humanity, Syria, Syrian Regime Crimes Against Humanity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 204 Comments.

  1. Thanks S.O.D, that was a good read, but I wished he had elaborated more exact details about the violence.

    One thing I was struck by is the large number of Sunni Muslim female students at the University, even back then in the 80s. I had always thought Latakia City to be an Islamist stronghold, and I don’t think conservative Muslims are to eager about higher education for girls ( I may be wrong)

  2. Son of Damascus

    Antoine,

    You might be correct in terms of Wahabi Islam or Salafi but that is not the case with the general conservative muslims. I have met many conservative muslim women in my studies (I graduated college a few years ago), and actually had the pleasure in attending a seminar of Dr. Azizah El Hibri, a very bright woman whom started KARAMAH and sits on the US administration.

    http://www.karamah.org/

  3. this is the American-born French novelist Jonathan Littell reporting in French from Homs ten days ago (again Le Monde subscribers’ edn., so I can’t post a link :

    Syrie : “L’opposition est remarquablement soudée et motivée”

    LEMONDE.FR | 17.02.12

    Compte rendu du chat avec Jonathan Littell, le 17 février.

    Mehdi B. : Comment se présente la situation humanitaire à Homs? Comment apporter de l’aide ?

    Jonathan Littell : La situation humanitaire est catastrophique dans les quartiers de l’opposition, sous attaque depuis treize jours. Il n’y a plus de pain et très peu de nourriture. Il y a deux jours, des militants qui tentaient de livrer des produits de base à Baba Amro ont été tués dans leurs véhicules. Par contre la solution ne passe pas par l’aide humanitaire mais par un arrêt des bombardements pour que les approvisionnements normaux puissent reprendre leur cours.

    Bobo : Quel est le moral des rebelles, presque un an après le début du soulèvement ?

    Jonathan Littell : D’après ce que j’ai vu, il est plutôt bon. D’un côté, les manifestants sont désespérés par la passivité de l’Occident. Mais de l’autre, la montée en force de l’Armée syrienne libre leur donne espoir de pouvoir faire chuter le régime par leurs propres moyens. Les désertions se multiplient et l’ASL se renforce tous les jours.

    Lula : Pensez-vous que les rebelles de Homs puissent résister encore longtemps ?

    Jonathan Littell : Je pense qu’ils peuvent résister quasi indéfiniment. Ces bombardements ne semblent pas être le prélude d’une offensive terrestre. Comme en a témoigné le photographe Mani l’autre jour, l’armée semble avoir peur de tenter d’entrer dans les quartiers. Les bombardements tuent énormément de civils, mais ne semblent pas affecter les capacités de l’Armée syrienne libre. En outre, l’ASL pense qu’en cas de combats directs, beaucoup de soldats de l’armée feraient défection. C’est un risque que l’armée ne semble pas pouvoir prendre.

    Ludovic : De l’extérieur, le soulèvement semble très désorganisé. Est-ce une réalité ou y a-t-il une quelconque forme de structure ? L’opposition est-elle plus unie que la perception que l’on en a ?

    Jonathan Littell : Je crois qu’il y a un réel décalage entre l’opposition à l’extérieur et à l’intérieur du pays. A l’extérieur, on assiste au jeu des partis politiques en compétition pour l’après-Bachar. A l’intérieur, par contre, il y a une très forte coordination populaire via les comités, mais cela reste au niveau local. C’est plus apolitique mais cela dépasse rarement le niveau du quartier.

    Baris : Des combattants rebelles viennent-ils d’autres pays ?

    Jonathan Littell : Je n’en ai pas vu à Homs.

    Anais : Pensez-vous que la résolution adoptée par l’ONU aura un réel impact sur les événements à venir ?

    Jonathan Littell : Non. Tant que les puissances occidentales et arabes acceptent d’être limitées dans leur réaction par le veto russe et chinois, il n’y aura aucune solution venant de l’international, les Syriens devront se débrouiller seuls.

    Mutanabbi : Quelle est la position des chrétiens dans cette terrible répression ?

    Jonathan Littell : Dans l’ensemble, neutres et attentifs. Les chrétiens sont inquiets pour l’avenir et la propagande gouvernementale fait tout pour renforcer cette inquiétude en diffusant constamment des sujets sur la violence antichrétienne en Irak ou en Egypte. Par contre, dans la campagne autour de Homs, j’ai vu des villages chrétiens qui soutiennent discrètement le soulèvement en fournissant une aide logistique à l’Armée syrienne libre. Je pense qu’il faut faire une distinction entre les positions des dignitaires chrétiens proches du régime et celles des populations chrétiennes dans les villes et les villages.

    Bobo : Vous sentiez-vous en sécurité auprès des rebelles ?

    Jonathan Littell : En sécurité par rapport aux rebelles, oui tout à fait. Mais bien sûr pas en sécurité par rapport aux bombardements et aux snipers de la défense gouvernementale.

    Guest : Les civils sont-ils armés ?

    Jonathan Littell : De plus en plus de civils rejoignent l’Armée syrienne libre mais restent, d’après ce que j’ai vu, une minorité au sein de l’ASL. Il y a aussi des communautés qui ont toujours été traditionnellement armées, comme notamment les Bédouins. Là, on peut voir des groupes incontrôlés qui se rendent coupables d’exactions en dehors du contrôle de l’ASL.

    Isabelle : Comment la population parvient-elle à communiquer ?

    Jonathan Littell : Avant le 3 février, les téléphones portables fonctionnaient à Homs, donc cela ne posait aucun problème. Depuis, les communications sont extrêmement limitées. Certains activistes disposent de connexions satellitaires leur permettant de communiquer par Skype ou par mails, mais ils sont peu nombreux.

    Guest : Les rebelles reçoivent-ils des armes de l’extérieur ?

    Jonathan Littell : Oui, certainement. Par contre, la source est très difficile à préciser. Il est évident que de riches hommes d’affaires syriens soutiennent le soulèvement et sans doute financent les achats d’armes et de munitions. Quant à savoir si des gouvernements étrangers soutiennent militairement le soulèvement, je suis incapable de le dire.

    Il faut aussi savoir que l’Armée syrienne libre obtient la majorité de ses armes et de ses munitions directement de l’armée régulière, soit en les achetant, soit en bénéficiant de complicités au sein de l’armée.

    Emma : Quel est le rôle des islamistes dans ce mouvement ?

    Jonathan Littell : Sur le terrain, je n’en ai vu aucun. Maintenant, il faudrait savoir ce que l’on entend par “islamistes”. Les sunnites de Homs sont des gens extrêmement pieux et conservateurs et manifestent ouvertement une foi profonde. Je ne pense pas que cela en fait des islamistes. Ensuite, il y a les Frères musulmans qui dominent le Conseil national syrien et qui proposent une option politique proche de celle de l’AKP turque, et que l’on pourrait qualifier de “démocratie musulmane”, de la même manière qu’en Europe, nous avons des démocrates chrétiens. Quant aux djihadistes, certaines sources notamment américaines affirment qu’ils sont déjà présents en Syrie, mais pour ma part, je n’en ai vu aucun signe. Et les officiers de l’ASL avec qui j’étais en contact récusaient tout lien avec eux pour le moment.

    Macaron : Faut-il armer les rebelles comme en Libye ?

    Jonathan Littell : Je préfère rester dans le domaine factuel et ne pas exprimer d’opinion. Ce que je peux dire, c’est que les officiers de l’Armée syrienne libre, eux, demandent l’instauration d’une zone d’exclusion aérienne en priorité, car cela permettrait la mutinerie de régiments entiers lourdement armés. La menace de l’aviation de Bachar Al-Assad a empêché de telles mutineries. Mais une zone d’exclusion aérienne résoudrait ce problème.

    Hélène : Dans quel cadre et sous quelle protection vous êtes-vous rendu à Homs ?

    Jonathan Littell : Je m’y suis rendu avec le photographe Mani en tant qu’envoyé spécial du Monde. A cause du refus des autorités syriennes d’admettre des journalistes librement sur leur territoire, nous avons dû entrer en Syrie clandestinement. Pour cela, nous avons été aidés et protégés par l’Armée syrienne libre.

    Baris : Des alaouites figurent-ils parmi les rebelles ?

    Jonathan Littell : Oui. L’exemple le plus connu est l’actrice allaouite Fadwa Souleimane, qui a rejoint les rebelles à Homs. J’ai aussi rencontré quelques soldats de l’Armée syrienne libre qui sont alaouites. Mais c’est vrai qu’ils sont peu nombreux. Néanmoins, leur présence est importante symboliquement.

    Mathilde : Quelle est la situation dans les hôpitaux de Homs ?

    Jonathan Littell : Les hôpitaux publics sont occupés par les forces de sécurité et ont été transformés en centres de torture. Les opposants blessés ne peuvent y attendre aucun soin. Il y a ensuite des cliniques privées mais celles-ci sont constamment soumises à la pression des forces de sécurité et les blessés qui y sont soignés risquent en permanence d’être arrêtés et torturés. J’ai recueilli un grand nombre de témoignages catégoriques à ce sujet. Y compris de médecins forcés de participer à des exactions, avant de faire défection.

    Roger : Existe-t-il à moyen terme des risques d’éclatement en interne au sein des rebelles et de la population face aux problèmes d’approvisionnement et d’accès aux soins ?

    Jonathan Littell : Ce que j’ai pu constater, c’est que la population dans les quartiers d’opposition est remarquablement soudée et motivée. Maintenant, il est évident que le régime joue la carte de l’affrontement interconfessionnel. Plus la répression durera, plus le risque d’un embrasement sectaire deviendra important. Le régime espère pouvoir sauver sa peau ainsi, mais cela pourrait être au prix de la destruction du pays.

    Jean-François : Le renversement de Bachar Al-Assad vous semble-t-il inévitable ?

    Jonathan Littell : Oui, sous une forme ou sous une autre. La communauté internationale continue de tendre des perches pour assurer une transition plus ou moins pacifique, mais Bachar Al-Assad semble catégoriquement refuser toutes ces offres. Je pense néanmoins que le régime est condamné, car même une dictature, aussi féroce soit-elle, a besoin de l’assentiment d’une majorité de sa population.

    En Syrie, le régime n’est plus réellement soutenu que par la communauté alaouite. Les autres communautés sont soit ouvertement en révolte soit dans une position d’attente. Bachar Al-Assad ne pourra jamais remettre le couvercle sur la marmite.

    Guest : Les rebelles sont-ils désormais majoritaires dans la population ?

    Jonathan Littell : C’est très difficile à dire, car le soulèvement suit des dynamiques différentes selon les régions. A Homs, qui est une ville extrêmement mélangée ethniquement, je dirai que plus de la moitié de la population est soulevée. Dans une bourgade comme Qusayr, à trente kilomètres de Homs, c’est la population entière qui est en révolte. Cela dépend donc vraiment des régions.
    Chat modéré par Gilles Paris et Charlotte Chabas

    La réaction aux articles est réservée aux abonnés du Monde.fr

    Réagissez

    nicolas riviere 17/02/12 – 15h53

    Pour ceux qui ont du mal avec les romanciers , voila le raport du CIRET avt, http://www.cf2r.org/images/stories/RR/rr11-syrie-une-libanisation-fabriquee.pdf , attention cela n’a rien à voir avec ce que nous r aconte le romancier littell, le rapport est une véritable analyse de la situation, sans propagande, simplement la réalité. On y apprend par exemple que lorsque bachar a envoyé des soldats non armés pour gérer la rebellion, les soldats ont éte égorgés et dépecés vivant.. Sympa les pacifist Répondre

    Syrien de Homs 18/02/12 – 15h31

    nicolas, êtes vous un moukhabarat déguisé pour profiter de la liberté d’expression qu’il y a en France afin de soutenir une dictature qui ne vous laisserait pas dire un seul mot? Bref, pour votre lien, je vous donne la réponse de M. Leverrier : fautes factuelles, imprcisions, manque de rigueur, le rapport est affligeant! Trouvez autre chose la prochaine fois!! http://syrie.blog.lemonde.fr/2012/02/16/un-nouveau-rapport-sur-la-syrie-partiel-partial-et-fabrique/

    Réagiss

  4. Son of Damascus

    By the way there is a new thread that started earlier today.

    https://7ee6an.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/no-title/

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